Dear Therapist:

My brother went through a very difficult tekufah as a teenager. There was a period of a few years when he was not at all frum. B'H he is doing much better now and continues to grow. He has always been welcome in my home and behaved appropriately around my children (his nephews). He is great with them, they love him and he adores them. As my children grow older I am becoming more concerned about his influence on them. He is not always careful about the language he uses in front of them and recently he was listening to secular music with them in the car. He is extremely sensitive and I don't want to hurt him but he needs to be more careful around my kids. How do you suggest I talk to him?



I think that we all face situations in which we need to balance the welfare of one person against that of another. This can happen among spouses, other family members, friends, neighbors, and others. As social beings, we cannot help but be affected by the people around us. Although we try to associate with people who have values that are similar to ours, it is inevitable that outside influences will affect us in one way or another.

Even mature, thoughtful, well-grounded adults can’t help being affected by the views and actions of others. Adults, however, often have the ability to recognize unwanted influences. We therefore can take action to temper the effect, or to minimize our exposure to these influences.

Children, however, do not have the same capacity to identify unwanted influences and to thwart them. In addition to the direct impact of unwanted messages, depending on age and maturity level children can be negatively influenced or confused by mixed messages. On top of the obvious contradictory messages between your brother and you, your children may view your silence as tacit approval of your brother’s actions, thus causing them to receive mixed messages directly from you.

When the inevitable conflict occurs, it is often impossible to make the perfect decision. At least one person may wind up feeling hurt or can be otherwise negatively affected. Our job is to make the best decision possible, allowing for as many factors as possible.

There are a few aspects of your situation that should be taken into account. From a general perspective, taking into account the ages and maturity levels of your children can help you to determine whether or not speaking with them about your brother’s actions would be a good idea. The nature of each child’s relationship with your brother will also help you to decide whether this is a proper course of action. The extent of your responsibility to your brother—based on his age and your relationship—should also be weighed against the responsibility that you have toward your children.

Viewing the issue from a general perspective, however, can cause you to ignore important situational factors. It can also make the problem seem overwhelming. Viewing each individual situation separately can help you to identify the particular issue inherent in that situation, often making the decision easier. Some of the situational factors to take into account are: the likely effect on each child of the problematic behavior; whether the behavior is ongoing; your brother’s likely response to any intervention; and your capability of minimizing the effect by discussing the issue with your children. There may be other factors that are specific to your family and circumstance. Identifying and considering all factors in each situation can help you to focus on the specific problem at hand, and to decide on an appropriate course of action. This can also help to minimize the effect of your emotions on your decision.

If you decide to speak with your brother, bear his sensitivities in mind. You know how he is likely to respond. It may be helpful to focus on one specific issue at a time rather than discussing his general negative effect on your children. Also, focusing on his action and your kids’ needs rather than on your brother himself can help him feel that he is not the problem, but that you need his help in raising your children properly.

You may be protecting your brother more than necessary. You feel the need to understand him and to cater to his emotional needs. Does he feel the same toward your family and you? Perhaps he does. If so, properly-worded discussions can allow him to feel happy to help.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY   |   Far Rockaway, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 718-258-5317


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